Things Are Bound to be Improving

I went to a gig last night without leaving my kitchen table. It was online, of course, the way everything is these days. I switched off the overhead light, flicked on the Christmas lights that remain attached to the wall (I don’t think they’ll ever come down), and I sat still. My life, in its present form, has shrunk to the space around my kitchen table; well, not quite, but, between short peregrinations out, it sometimes it feels like that. I almost didn’t click the link when the time came; I hovered over it, thinking: Why bother? It won’t be any different to listening to the radio or to streaming music from my computer. But I clicked before talking myself out of it any further, then instantaneously felt as though I had called at the door of someone’s house, but I couldn’t very well back out with a cry of, wrong house, I meant to knock next door! However, after only a few minutes, I realised that I absolutely loved watching live music, even online (I know it’s an exercise in listening, but the watching is important too). There he was, Jesse Terry, in his sitting room in New England, four hours behind me on the clock, but there with me at the same moment in time, cheerfully greeting fifty or so of us from around the world in what felt a like an intimate pub session. His plan: to sing from the back catalogue of James Taylor and Jackson Browne (the latter always pulls me in – what better Sunday night soundtrack that JB?). I settled, came to rest, and enjoyed every moment of it.

Jesse is a man of smiles; it seems that everything is a joy to him. I wondered at his ability to be consistently upbeat and positive, especially at this time of dreary sameness, when days roll into one, when the routine seems mundane, when the daily light is literally often dim. It was as though he could read my mind, for in that moment – though disconnected to what he had been talking about – he said, “the happiness just doesn’t come to you, you gotta go after it.” And with that he launched into Jackson Browne’s ‘The Pretender’, which seemed a perfect description of what he was talking about. “Gonna pack my lunch in the morning / And go to work each day / And when the evening rolls around / I’ll go on home and lay my body down / And when the morning light comes streaming in / I’ll get up and do it again, Amen / Say it again, Amen.” That’s it, I thought, it’s as simple as that: not that many of us are going out to work anymore, but we are getting up for work, in some shape of form, falling into a routine, and letting the days roll around, because we have no other option and there is comfort to be had in that. I had been coming at it all wrong; thinking of it as plugging away, as a humdrum bore, as unexciting, but Jackson seems to say, accept it and love it, Amen!

Nonetheless, even if you manage to pull off the trick of going through the motions in a happier frame of mind, even if you thrive on routine, we all need life to be punctuated by something different: new stimulations, new people and places, performances, music, art, colour. I was thinking all this when Jesse began singing another Jackson Browne number. This time it was, ‘These Days’ with more lyrics that feel relevant to now: “Well I’ll keep on moving, moving on / Things are bound to be improving these days, one of these days / These days I sit on corner stones / And count the time in quarter tones to ten, my friend.”

Things are bound to be improving, especially if we remember that happiness is an ordinary day: a chat on the stairs; a photograph from abroad of an engagement ring worn by a girl with a huge smile; a jab in the arm; an online gig.

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